Scientists at the New Jersey Institute of Technology are overseeing the creation of a prototype chip that may enable doctors to detect the presence of diseases or viruses from just one drop of blood. The device uses carbon nanotubes to quickly detect single cells with the potential to maintain a high degree of spatial resolution. And the best part about this device? It’s completely non-invasive.
The device utilizes complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technologies for fabrication. This makes it easily scalable, even down to a few nanometers. Nanotubes are deposited using electrophoresis, which disperses particles relative to a fluid under the influence of a spatially uniform electric field. This maintains compatibility with the CMOS. The devices are then spaced by six microns — about the same size or smaller than a single cell.
The chip works like this: A tiny drop of blood is placed on the active area of the device which measures the cells’ electrical properties. As electrical properties between cell types can vary, this may help in determining the presence of virus or disease in the sample. Initially, the researchers evaluated three different types of cells using different probes.
According to Reginald Farrow, one of the scientists involved in the project:
"It was an exploratory study and we don’t want to say that we have a signature. What we do say here is that these cells differ based on electrical properties. Establishing a signature, however, will take time, although we know that the distribution of electrical charges in a healthy cell changes markedly when it becomes sick.”
Originally, this research was funded by the military as a way to identify biological warfare agents. However, Farrow believes that the use of such a device can go much further and could detect viruses, bacteria and possibly even cancer. Also, the positioning of the carbon nanotubes in this research could lead to the creation of things like an artificial pancreas, three-dimensional electronic circuits and nanoscale fuel cells.